It’s time again for a CFL spending cap; it saved the Riders once

Hooray for the Saskatchewan Roughriders!

In metaphorical parlance, they got the hottest toy on the shelf, the shiniest tool in the shed, the hottest commodity in the CFL.

They signed Chris Jones to a three-year contract as their vice-president of football operations, general manager, head coach and defensive co-ordinator exactly one week after he led the Edmonton Eskimos, as their head coach and DC, to a 26-20 victory over the Ottawa Redblacks in the 103rd Grey Cup.

As the league’s wealthiest franchise the Roughriders can afford the extravagance, but is it right?

The way the Roughriders are spending money, it’s time for the CFL to put in place an administrative salary cap, much like the league prudently implemented in 1987 to put a lid on costs.

That initial spending cap included the cost of players’ salaries, training camp, coaches’ salaries, scouting expenses and other sundries designed to create a level playing field in the CFL. It was also designed to save the poorer franchises in the CFL.

Teams like the financially strapped Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Piece by piece all those extra costs were taken out of the cap, until only players’ salaries were capped. A Salary Management System was established in 2006 that dictated how much each CFL franchise could pay its players, with teams being closely audited to insure they don’t exceed the cap. Mild punishments will be imposed if they spent more than $5.05 million for their players in 2015.

The Roughriders were so poor in those early cap days, trying to stay competitive, that they carried heavy debts and were on the brink of folding several times. The provincial government ultimately forgave the team’s $2.8-million loan, giving the community-owned franchise some breathing room.

The Roughriders started becoming successful in 2007, partly because they changed how they operated and hired a fulltime CEO/president in Jim Hopson, but also because all CFL teams were adhering to a cap on players’ salaries. The Roughriders were allowed to become relevant, allowed to become competitive.

Now the Roughriders are thriving. They regularly appear in Grey Cup games, winning in 2007 and 2013, plus their unbelievable fan support has given them annual profits up to $10.4 million.

They had umpteen coaches in 2016. Their office staff has burgeoned. They probably underspend on scouting, but that’s another topic. They can run their business operations any way they see fit, but in a league that needs to remain competitive for its remaining franchises to survive, it’s imperative that every team abide by the same rules when it comes to coaching and recruiting.

Hiring Jones is expensive — reports of his annual salary range from $500,000 to $750,000 annually. Meanwhile, the community-owned franchise is also paying his predecessors, Brendan Taman and Corey Chamblin, approximately $700,000 in 2016 and 2017 to not be the team’s general manager/VP and head coach, respectively.  Taman and Chamblin were already paid about $350,000 for the second half of the 2015 season, after they were fired.

Few teams in the CFL can afford to pay so dearly for coaches and on-field management. That’s unfair. That’s why a cap should again be implemented for all CFL teams to make sure none have a financial advantage when it comes to being competitive. The Roughriders, of all teams, should know that a cap is a good, fair idea.

Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.